‘Gus Dur to pick more professionals’

They are expected to fill key economic posts, says minister.

INDONESIAN Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab said yesterday that professionals were likely to have a stronger role in the Cabinet by taking up key economic posts in President Abdurrahman Wahid’s new ministerial team.

He also brushed aside suggestions that the government would be dominated by members of the President’s Nation Awakening Party (PKB) and hinted that the Cabinet would continue to be a coalition of different political parties.

“This is a purely personal point of view,” he said at a public lecture here on recent developments in Indonesia, which was organised by the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies.

“We need to find a middle ground, one in which the economic ground is taken over by professionals and all the other posts by party-affiliated members.”

Dr Alwi, a confidant of Mr Abdurrahman, was responding to questions at the lecture.

His comments also came a day after economic czar Kwik Kian Gie, citing the administration’s plan to restructure the Cabinet, submitted his resignation to the President.

Speculation was rife that other ministers, Finance Minister Bambang Sudibyo in particular, would also quit the fragile multi-party government ahead of a Cabinet shake-up, expected by Aug 21.

Dr Alwi said yesterday that a combination of professionals and representatives of various parties would “pave the way for a healthy relationship” between the President and the multi-party legislature.

It would also reduce political tension.

For this reason, he took pains to point out that the PKB would not attempt to monopolise Cabinet posts.

More importantly, it lacked the experts to do so. Quoting the President, he said to laughter from those attending the lecture: “The problem with the PKB is that every name we come up with only suits the Department of Religious Affairs. Nothing else.”

He was also sceptical that the government would comprise only members of the PKB and Vice-President Megawati Sukarnoputri’s Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle: “That is a remote possibility.”

The “rainbow coalition” Cabinet was formed at the onset of the President’s rule 10 months ago to accommodate the main political parties who helped vote him in as Indonesia’s first democratically elected leader.

But political analysts argue that, because ministers were constrained by the interests of their respective parties, they were unable to work effectively.

No where was this more apparent than in the economic sector where critics charged that the ministers lacked a clear vision of how to restore the battered economy to health.

Periodic infighting resulted in policies that were erratic and not based on long-term considerations.

As a result, public pressure has been growing on the President to put non-partisan professionals in key ministries to prevent wranglings and stop the drift in the Indonesian economy.

Dr Alwi, who arrived on Thursday for a two-day visit, held talks with Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and President S.R. Nathan.

He called Indonesia’s relations with Singapore “close and cordial”, and said he received “valuable insights and advice” in his meetings here, especially from Mr Lee.

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